The Venice Carnival tradition began after 1162. The Republic defeated Ulrico, Patriarch of Aquileia in that year and began a tradition of slaughtering a bull and 12 pigs in Piazza San Marco around Shrove Tuesday to commemorate the victory. This celebration gradually grew and the first document mentioning the use of masks dates back towas recorded in 1268. It reached its peak of popularity in the 18th century. During this period nobles wore the Bauta, a mask that covers only the upper part of the face, permitting the wearer to drink, eat and talk easily. This mask was worn together with a black cloak. After the Austrians took control of Venice in 1798, the Carnival significance declined gradually up to the 1930s when Mussolini banned it. In the middle of the 1900s it became popular again.
Carnival takes place in Venice during the twelve days before Ash Wednesday. The culminating moments of this Carnival include the flight of the angel which marks the beginning of Carnival celebrations, the water procession with decorated boats and masked rowers and the final grand ball on Shrove Tuesday in Saint Marks Square, with the traditional fireworks show in front of the Ducal Palace. Every year the Carnival theme is different. Several events take place throughout the city: from improvised street shows to performances put on by the organisers, from Carnival feasts and masked balls in private palaces to people in masks who happily invade streets and squares in search of fun… It is possible to see every kind of costume.
Carnival in Ivrea, near Turin, is centred around a unique juicy orange battle which takes place 40 days before Lent. The battle is an allegoric representation of historic facts mixed with legends: the first insurrection in 1194 started by Violetta and the second in 1266, when the men of Ivrea expelled the Marquis of Monferrato. In the Middle Ages beans were used in this battle. Around the 19th century girls began to throw oranges at boys they fancied and if the boys liked them, they threw an orange back. Today the contest is enacted with rules in the main squares of the town where 9 teams in carriages (symbolising the tyrants guards) battle against the orange thrower teams on foot (the rebellious commoners) which consist of hundreds of throwers. The main events take place on the Saturday, Sunday and Monday running up to the grand finale on Shrove Tuesday.
The Viareggio Carnival started in 1873 when a group of young nobles decided to organize a different Sunday: they took their carts, filled them with flowers and, together with other youth in costume, paraded around the town. Since then Viareggio enjoys its Carnival with masked parades characterized by allegorical floats in papier-mâché. There is not one politician, entertainer, or intellectual that has not been a protagonist of one of these floats which are huge: up to 15m long, 10m wide and 30m high. These floats are true works of art to which the local float makers dedicate an entire year of workmanship. The parades take place on the three Sundays preceding Shrove Tuesday, on Shrove Tuesday and on the Sunday immediately afterwards. The official Viareggio Carnival mask is Burlamacco, a clown whose clothes are a jigsaw of those from the classic characters of the Italian Commedia dellArte.
The Carnival of Mamoiada, in Sardinia, starts on the night of Saint Anthony the Abbot on January 17th. It does not offer streamers, confetti, costumes, floats and merrymaking but the mask parade of the Mamuthones. These are men who are dressed up as animals: they wear sheep skins and cow bells hanging on their shoulders. A black wooden mask hides their face and a brown handkerchief, tied beneath their chin, covers their head. They walk rhythmically on two parallel lines in a dancing procession ringing their bells at the same time. They are protected by Issohadores, men dressed in bright red and white and armed with the soha, a crossover between a lasso and a whip. Some of them have an austere white mask on their face. Every now and again, the Issohadores break rank and capture a man or more often, a woman from the watching crowd. Tradition has it that the captive has to buy everyone a drink to gain his or her freedom. People believe that this Carnival may be more than 3,000 years old and tied to propitiatory pre-Christian rites to get rid of evil spirits and bring prosperity to the community.
Carnival celebrations date back in this Apulian town to 1394. The Putignano Carnival is the longest carnival in the world as it starts on December 26th and ends on Shrove Tuesday. The revelries started by accident. Story has it that the Knight of Saint John wanted to move some sacred relics from their castle in Monopoli to a safer place inland. They chose Putignano and, when the precious cargo arrived, farmers left their work and celebrated the occasion with dances, verses and music. Since then, this ritual, called the Propaggini, has been repeated every year, although it has long lost any religious connotations and replaced them with a satiric quality. Today the great float parades are the main attraction which take place on the last three Sundays of Carnival and on Shrove Tuesday. Politicians are the favourite victims for verse and float satire. Every Thursday between January 17 and Shrove Tuesday, comedians act sketches, making fun of priests, widows and widowers, madmen, married women and other common people. On Shrove Tuesday, there is the last parade with an un-sorrowful funeral of King Carnival while an enormous papier mâché bell tolls 365 times to mark the last moments of the festival.
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